Sales Series: Why You Need a Sales Engineer

Thanks to Josh Davis for contributing this post.

Grow was recently listed among the fastest growing SaaS companies. At one point we were listed at #6 (just behind Salesforce and Slack). We’re proud of that growth, but it comes with some challenges.

Deciding to Hire a Sales Engineer

As a young company on a fast-growth track, we’ve operated with a pretty raw sales team. For a long time, we operated without a sales engineer.

Although we knew the benefits of hiring one (such as higher retention and potentially increasing sales), our short sales cycle (6 days) was sacred to us. We worried that bringing in a sales engineer could negatively impact our time-to-conversion, and perhaps even have more compounding effects in the long term.

But finally, we pulled the trigger and hired an SE—and we’re definitely seeing the benefits, including things like:

  • Quick access to in-depth product knowledge
  • Improving product training for the sales team
  • Setting clear expectations for clients
  • Creating an initial plan for success
  • Smoother transition to customer success

Quick Access to Someone with Product Knowledge for Sales Reps

We have found that having someone on the sales side with a thorough knowledge of our product has been extremely valuable. While our sales team is well-trained and uses Grow every day, they often field unique and highly-specific questions from prospects—questions that require a deep, technical understanding of the product.

Whereas before it was difficult to get answers without pestering our engineering team, now sales reps have a dedicated resource who can quickly answer questions to help our prospects. And from a prospect’s point of view, it’s valuable to have a technical resource on the call to explain the product in more detail and apply it to their specific requirements.

Improved Product Trainings for the Sales Team

Product training is much more effective when the trainer has not just knowledge of the product, but an understanding of the sales process as well. Our product trainings with a sales engineer have directly improved our sales reps’ ability to demo the product and explain how Grow can help clients’ business by showcasing key features and connecting them to their needs and pain points.

Setting Clear Expectations for Prospects

During the sales process, setting clear expectations is critical. As a buyer, if your exceptions are met (or ideally, exceeded), you will be happy with your purchase. If you get something that doesn’t meet your expectations, you are going to be dissatisfied.

As a SaaS company, we need to make sure our clients know what to expect when signing up for our service. Having a sales engineer on the team to help identify the client’s needs, processes, and expectations has helped us improve our ability to set clear expectations. This has in turn helped improve our clients’ satisfaction and reduce cancellations.

Creating an Initial Plan for Success

Going in blind is always scary, whether you’re walking into a dark cave or starting off with a new software service provider. That’s why we like to set clear expectations (as discussed above) with our clients, and a key part of setting expectations is coming up with an initial plan for success.

Because the sales engineer has been able to understand the prospect’s needs, he can also identify the best approach to fulfilling those needs through Grow. Often, getting data into the platform is simple, but sometimes a client will have a unique data source that is more complicated to set up.

With his precise technical knowledge, our sales engineer is able to explain that process and put a plan for success in place before a contract is even signed. This transparency has helped us close more deals—and retain them—because the client has a clear understanding of what their experience on Grow will be like right from the start.

Smoother Transition to Customer Success

The customer success team does a phenomenal job at working with our clients to help them be successful on Grow. Before we brought on a sales engineer, we thought it would be best to hire from that team because of their experience working with our clients.

With his customer success background, our sales engineer understands both the clients’ needs and our data consultants’ needs. This makes it easy for him to facilitate the handoff between sales and customer success, and help our data consultants jumpstart the implementation process.

Measuring Success

It’s still early for us to see the long-term impact of adding a sales engineer, but so far we have seen many benefits for both our team and for our customers.

Increasing our sales sales cycle was one of the biggest concerns, but what we’ve found is that in most cases, it hasn’t slowed down the process at all, and has even helped speed it up. Giving our sales team quick, easy access to someone with a high level of product knowledge has allowed us to get questions answered for our prospects quickly and efficiently, and move them along to the next stage. And even when it has slowed down the sales process, it has helped set clear expectations right off the bad, and to decrease churn on more complicated, technical deals.

Overall, while we can’t precisely quantify the impact of our sales engineer yet, the results so far are promising. Our fears haven’t materialized, and we’ve realized some bigger benefits than we initially expected!

What are some factors you consider when hiring a sales engineer? Have you seen unexpected benefits from adding a sales engineer to your team? Let us know in the comments!